College admissions counselors saw record numbers of applicants during pandemic: NPR
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High school students attending university make their final deliberations before May 1, the national deadline for choosing a school. Today will mark the end of an eventful admissions season radically shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many colleges have abandoned standardized testing requirements, and with some high schools giving pass / fail grades and canceling extracurricular activities and sports, admissions counselors have had to change the way they read and assess applications.
“[It was] definitely the craziest of my 36 years, without a doubt, ”says Lisa Przekop, director of admissions at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The UC school system received the most applications in the United States.
Like many others, Przekop says all of his staff have been working remotely throughout the pandemic. But if switching to working from home wasn’t enough, Przekop says the school saw a 16% increase in requests.
“On top of all that, we had to design a way to do our admissions selection process without using SAT or ACT scores,” she says. “So any of those things would have been a major change, but having them all at once was beyond anything I could have imagined.”
Przekop spoke with All things Considered about how what counselors were looking for in nominations this year changed, what topics they saw in admissions essays, and how the process could have improved despite the pandemic.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Did all of this add to the time spent on each individual app?
Quick response, yes. Things are much more nuanced now. And while a student may have, for example, planned to do certain activities, many of those activities have been canceled. The other big difference was that the students were a lot more depressed this year, obviously. Everyone is more anxious, including the students. They are applying to college, which in itself is stressful. And so, what we found out was that a lot of the students used their essays to talk about depression, anxiety, things like that. Reading essay after essay after essay about depression, anxiety, stress – is trying. So we really had to encourage the staff to take more breaks as the review progressed. So it certainly slowed down the whole process at a time when we had more requests to consider.
Can you give an overview of what you base your decisions on this year?
Absolutely. Maybe in the past I would have focused on this GPA right away. Now when I look at this academic picture I have to look at the fact that the student challenged himself as much as he could have? Were the courses even available? Do I see any trends in their academic performance? If their spring term last year, their junior year, was all pass / no pass, can I assume they did well in those courses? And this is where you really had to rely on what the students were sharing in their essays to try to piece this together.
Do you see more diversity among students applying to UC?
In terms of ethnic diversity, yes, we see that. In terms of the diversity of experiences – for example, first-generation college students and students with many different socio-economic backgrounds – we certainly see that. I see students who are very committed to the environment more than I have seen before. I see students who are more politically aware and active than I have seen before. So, I definitely see a pattern of behaviors that seem a bit different from students in the past.
Anna Sirianni, Justine Kenin and Amy Isackson produced and edited this audio story. Mano Sundaresan adapted it for the web.